Obama Chicago Way Goes Global

Former city clerk dubious of reform prospects

Can America stomach The Chicago Way?

That's the question former city clerk James Laski - who served 11 months in federal prison on Hired Truck-related charges - is asking this week in an Op-Ed column for the Detroit Free Press.

"President Obama has embarked on a course of change. His political roots, however, are deeply embedded in the bare knuckle, down-and-dirty blood sport known as 'Politics, Chicago Style'," Laski writes.

"Although Obama professes to be a political outsider, he has certainly learned the ropes of fund-raising the Chicago way. The campaign raised more than $600 million, shattering all records. When Obama first ran for the state Senate, Chicago businessman Antoin (Tony) Rezko, who is currently awaiting sentencing for public corruption, funded a portion of that first campaign.

"Politics changes a person. The political culture often promotes power and ego over public good. The Chicago political machine breeds corruption by illegal patronage and hiring practices." This isn't the first time Laski has taken a shot at the same Machine politics that also served his own interests. In his memoir, My Fall From Grace: City Hall to Prison Walls, Laski accused Mayor Richard M. Daley of once telling him of the importance of putting a buffer between oneself and political cronies who carry out the corrupt tasks one needs and wants done.

"[Daley] knows more than he says he does," Laski told the Sun-Times last year.

In his Free Press piece, Laski takes direct aim at Obama's reform credentials. "The Chicago system is the same one Obama used when he decided to run for a state Senate seat. He didn't court a local civic league group or consult with his pastor or his neighbors. He did things the old-fashioned Chicago way; he went to his alderman, an influential politician, and told her he wanted that seat. He also mastered the talent of challenging petitions, knocked every opponent off the ballot, and ran unopposed in his first election. This tactic has long been an art form in Chicago."

Laski also questions Obama's inner Chicago circle - David Axelord, Rahm Emanuel, and Valerie Jarrett - and cautions that "The people mentioned so far do not take into account all of the ancillary figures from Chicago who will also take up residence in D.C. as part of the Obama patronage army."

Is Laski trying to sell additional copies of his year-old memoir? Of course. He has even updated the book's website to reflect current events.

"LASKI’S BOOK REVEALS ALL ABOUT GOVERNOR BLAGO’S POLITICS, CHICAGO STYLE," the site now says. "Want to know the hidden truth behind the FBI’s recent arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich? Read My Fall from Grace: City Hall to Prison Walls and find out! You will learn all about what the national media has called the 'culture of Chicago politics' - Illinois’ infamous legacy of political patronage, corruption, and payoffs."

Does that make what he writes any less true? Readers will have to decide for themselves.

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